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‘Alas, alas. House, oh house!’: The collapse of the Cologne City Archive

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When the Historical Archive of the City of Cologne (known as Cologne’s City Archive) collapsed in 2009, a municipal institution became visible in quite unintended ways. The incident and its consequences tell us about the structure, constitution and regulation of the archive as such but also about the significance of the archive for the memory culture that shapes Germany today. This article turns to the collapse to show how the archive is implicated in the politics of the city and of memory. In the midst of other local scandals, the disaster has become an emblem of political and moral breakdown in Cologne, but it has also confronted citizens with the loss of something fundamental – given, but perhaps not acknowledged – to their identity. This article outlines the response to the incident more broadly, before focusing on works by the British Jewish artist Tanya Ury (Fury, 2009, archive burn out, 2014) and the Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek (Ein Sturz/A Fall, 2010), which use the former archive as a site of resistance, challenging the prescriptive, patriarchal logic of the archive and its implications for the culture and politics of memory.
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Keywords: Cologne; Jelinek; Ury; archive; memory; performance

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The University of Edinburgh

Publication date: 01 September 2014

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  • Cities have been increasingly at the forefront of debate in both humanities and social-science disciplines, but there has been relatively little dialogue across these disciplinary boundaries. Journals in social-science fields that use urban-studies methods to look at life in cities rarely explore the cultural aspects of urban life in any depth or delve into close readings of the representation of cities in individual cultural products. As a platform for interdisciplinary scholarship from any and all linguistic, cultural and geographical traditions, the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies prioritizes the urban phenomenon in order to better understand the culture(s) of cities.
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